The following op-ed piece by Chris Jones, special to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was published on August 4, 2022. To read the entire editorial, please visit the Democrat-Gazette. This link might require a subscription. If so, we encourage you to consider subscribing; local journalism is worth paying for. For those unable to subscribe, the entire op-ed is published below:
OPINION | CHRIS JONES: Unexcused absence
Teacher pay and the governor’s race by Chris Jones Special to the Democrat-Gazette
What a rare moment we find ourselves in right now in Arkansas. We have an historic surplus and bipartisan agreement that a portion of it should be used to raise the floor and close the gaps on teacher pay. We have sustainable funding, Republican and Democratic leaders putting forward plans that support each other's goals, a window of opportunity to do something together--and, with the lowest-paid teachers in the region, our state has every reason to act.
As the son of a lifelong teacher, and the father to three beautiful daughters, I know that parents are their children's first and most important teachers. Schools and educators partner with parents to give children the best opportunity to succeed in life. That's why it's so important to support teachers as they support our children.
Last month, I put forward my Teacher Pay Plus Plan to raise teacher pay and address the teacher shortage and rural education. Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas Democrats have also released their plans.
We are all in agreement: Raise teachers' starting salaries, raise average teacher pay, and give our teachers the resources they need to succeed in the classroom.
There is one voice conspicuously absent who I want to invite to the conversation: Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She could help make a difference in moving many of the more extreme legislators--who align with her. She could support Governor Hutchinson and a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers who want to raise teacher pay during the August special session of the Arkansas Legislature. Teachers would welcome the support.
When I released my plan, I invited Sanders to participate in this important statewide conversation. Unfortunately, she's still an unexcused absence on education at this time.
We should also be clear that this isn't about politics or elections. This is about each one of us looking at what we can do to ensure that Arkansas makes a strong investment in education; it's a down payment on a brighter future.
It's especially important that we do so in a time where we are experiencing too much government control and a Legislature that wants to dictate decisions that should be local. So many school boards are losing local control, classrooms and teachers are under increased harassment, and the core issues of education seem so often ignored. It's an environment of chaos when Arkansans really want community.
I'm inviting Sarah Huckabee Sanders to move beyond "no comment" and a vague promise to release some type of statement about education "in the coming months." Arkansas' teacher-pay issue is not a new issue, and Arkansas deserves a governor who is willing to be upfront, honest, and available to talk about what really matters.
While there is an absence of comment for supporting teachers, there seems to be an abundance of paid messaging from Sanders' camp condemning teachers. Wild accusations fly that teachers are puppets of the left, indoctrinating our children, and waging campaigns to distort American history in schools--while at the same time our tax dollars have been used to distribute books from the company founded by her father, Mike Huckabee, to schoolchildren.
It raises some questions. How does that address critical teacher shortages? How does that help us catch up to Mississippi for teacher pay? Will we see school closings across rural Arkansas? Should we even expect her to support raising teacher pay--at all--if elected?
The only thing we do know is that she's choosing not to tell us and she's choosing to be a no-call, no-show during this important moment for teacher pay. During this important moment for our state. An equally important question that voters might consider: Should someone get a job if they don't show up for their interview?
Arkansans shouldn't have to beg for answers to questions like these. These are big, fundamental questions, and a candidate for governor ought to be able to talk about them, no excuse. I've traveled to every corner of this state, and what I'm hearing is people believe good quality schools and investments in education are a cornerstone of a strong and successful economy and community. There's no question about it.
This is a moment in which if we all step up, we can get this done. There are just a handful of state lawmakers holding back a bipartisan plan to raise teacher pay this August. They need some encouragement to do the right thing. They're looking to the public and they're looking to the people who want to be our future leaders.
I plan to be a leader who encourages, unites, and leads on the easy and the tough issues. Now is the time when Arkansans must come together to move the needle, to pave the way for our state to reach its full potential.
Chris Jones is the Democratic nominee for governor of Arkansas.